In the NBA world right now, everybody is doing what they can to stay entertained. We’re tuning into The Last Dance every Sunday. We’re squeezing every detail we can get out of this supposed rift in Utah right now between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. We’re trying to figure out what’s the aptest solution for this current season when this quarantine ends. All of this confirms that we are going through our worst nightmare as hoop junkies: An NBA drought.
Since we can’t analyze anything currently game-wise, we can only analyze the past. One enjoyable pastime is analyzing previous iterations of the NBA Draft. Today, we’re going to be looking at one of the most hyped-up draft classes of all-time, the 2014 NBA Draft.
Knowing what we know now, that sounds preposterous– but back in 2014, the anticipation surrounding the 2014 class was unmistakably high. Before the start of the season, the consensus was that two game-changers – Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker – were about to enter the league. Well, until another phenom from Kansas that went by the name of Joel Embiid demonstrated that he too was a can’t-miss talent. Not to mention the tier of young talent below them – Aaron Gordon, Dante Exum and Marcus Smart – wasn’t too shabby.
Many teams in the NBA took notice and punted that season in hopes of getting one of the elite prospects. Teams like Philadelphia, Boston, Orlando and Utah made the necessary adjustments to put themselves in a position to get a top prospect before the season started. Other teams like Milwaukee, Cleveland, Sacramento and the Lakers weren’t originally intending to do the same at the start of the season but, inadvertently, they ended up in the running.
It’s been almost six years since this supposed-juggernaut of a draft took place, so how do we look back on it now? Well, it’s a mixed bag, to say the least. A fair amount of fantastic players came from this draft. They just weren’t the ones who we expected to be fantastic back in 2014. Yeah, it’s complicated. The best way to approach this is by examining in this way:
A. The Hits – the players that panned out
B. The Misses – the players that did not pan out
C. The Sleepers – the players that exceeded minimal expectations
D. Jury Is Out – those that have shown flashes
Joel Embiid, No. 3
His debut was delayed more than any fanbase would like, but he was well worth the wait. Embiid is a franchise center – and on both ends of the floor, he remains the focal point for teams to stop. Still, there are some causes for concern. He has regressed a little this season. His durability in the postseason still remains in question until he proves otherwise. His fit with Ben Simmons is as clunky as ever, but Embiid has lived up to his billing as a game-changer.
If Philadelphia is able to recoup the shooting it once had with JJ Redick, Embiid’s production should launch to MVP-worthy levels for years to come.
Marcus Smart, No. 6
When you look at Smart’s stats, you likely won’t be wowed by what he has done as the sixth overall pick. But, watching him on the court, it’s easy to see the impact he has on the Celtics. He’s a pest. He’s a hustler. He’ll throw his body in harm’s way to make a winning play. He’s spearheaded the Celtics’ winning culture. There’s a reason why he’s only one of three players selected in this draft’s lottery that has stuck with his original team. For that, he’s a hit.
Zach LaVine, No. 13
LaVine’s a scorer, he’s shown that much both in Minnesota and Chicago. There’s only one thing holding him back from being a full-on All-Star. He has yet to prove he can produce that well for a good team. As good as he is scoring-wise from just about anywhere on the court, his defense negates pretty much all of it. Now that new management has taken over with the Bulls organization, LaVine will get another shot to prove he’s more than an empty-calorie scorer.
Jusuf Nurkic, No. 16
It is difficult to pan out and not and be on your original team just because the other player selected by the same team in the same draft also happens to play the same position – worst of all, that late-second-rounder turned into one of the best players in this draft. There’s a reason why Portland’s defense went right into the basement this season. They miss the all-around game Nurkic brings as a center. If Portland has a resurgence next year, the big-man enforcer will have a lot to do with it.
TJ Warren, No. 14
Last year, Warren was in the same boat as Zach LaVine. He’s proven that he can score the basketball, but we had yet to see if those numbers were effective. Now that he’s gone through a change of scenery in Indiana, we can now see that, yes, Warren’s offensive production can benefit a good team. Even with seemingly more offensive talent around him in Indiana, his numbers have managed to stay the same. Through that, he’s justified his selection.
Jabari Parker, No. 2
It’s hard to give Jabari this label because fate dealt him a cruel hand on multiple occasions. Tearing the same ACL twice in almost two years certainly stunted his growth as a player. The bigger problem is that he was slated to be a superstar dating back to his days as a high schooler. Young superstars don’t get tossed around five times over the last two years. They also don’t become internet memes when they show a lack of interest in playing defense. There’s still time for Parker to carve out a Corey Maggette-like career for himself. For a No. 2 overall pick that was expected to run the NBA, yikes.
Dante Exum, No. 5
Along with the same unlucky injury history as Parker, Exum, sadly, has suffered just the same. He’s been through the wringer since entering the league. He’s torn his ACL, dislocated his shoulder, torn his patella tendon and sprained his ankle a million and one times since his rookie year. The injuries have cast a shadow over his career – but even when he’s on the floor, he still hasn’t shown enough to justify his selection.
Nik Stauskas, No. 8
Stauskas was picked eighth in the lottery because he was supposed to be a sharpshooter. Well, since the very beginning, he bounced from team to team all while never really bringing his supposed sharpshooting on an NBA level. His career splits shooting 39/35/81 from the field justify why Stauskas has been out of the league since 2019.
Noah Vonleh, No. 9
Even though Vonleh vaults himself ahead of Stauskas because he’s still technically in the NBA, the big man is also a career journeyman. He’s been on six teams since coming to the NBA. Outside of one decent year on a throwaway New York Knicks team, Vonleh’s been largely unimpressive as a whole. You’d expect more from the ninth overall pick.
So, something needs to be made clear here: The 2014 draft had a lot of sleepers. For all the guys who have disappointed, there were plenty of them that exceeded expectations. Diving into all of them would take forever, so let’s first give a little shoutout to those who excelled, but not as much as the one winner that takes the cake.
Gary Harris, No. 19
Rodney Hood, No. 23
Bogdan Bogdanovic, No. 27
Kyle Anderson, No. 30
Joe Harris, No. 33
Jerami Grant, No. 39
Dwight Powell, No. 45
And then, of course…
Nikola Jokic, No. 41
The most obvious pick of the group. Jokic isn’t going to be the poster boy for Men’s Health magazine anytime soon, but he is the most skilled big in the game right now. You know about his expert passing. You know about his finesse around the basket. You know about how he can take over a game at any moment. What you don’t know is that, despite his doughy physique, he’s actually quite underrated as a defender. Since his ascent, Denver’s been right around the top of the west. That’s downright amazing for a late draft pick.
Clint Capela, No. 25
When you play so well that James Harden wants to bench Dwight Howard in favor of you, then you’ve exceeded expectations. Capela fits the mold as the prototypical big in today’s NBA. He blocks shots, rebounds, runs the pick-and-roll as well as anyone and doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make an impact. Atlanta will be a different situation from Houston, but as long as his injury issues are a thing of the past, he’ll be a big help to them.
Spencer Dinwiddie, No. 38
Like Harris, Dinwiddie has played an instrumental role in reviving Brooklyn as a franchise. His emergence came later than some of the others mentioned in this category – still, he’s averaging 20/7/3 on a playoff team while on a bargain contract. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving coming back next season, his role will decrease but Brooklyn has to take pride in that they have a great complimentary piece to put next to them.
Jordan Clarkson, No. 46
The reason why Clarkson deserves more elaboration than the other sleepers on this list is that he was the first one in this draft to emerge as a steal. Since he entered the league, Clarkson has shown an ability to be a spark plug off the bench. Better yet, before his trade to Utah this season, his effectiveness was always in question, but not anymore. He’s been one of their more positive subplots in a season rooted in dysfunction. For that, he has solidified himself as a prominent sleeper.
Jury Is Still Out
Julius Randle, No. 7
The aforementioned issue with LaVine is the same for Randle. Randle has absolutely proven that he can score the basketball – he just hasn’t been able to do that with a playoff team. The closest he came was with the Lakers during his last year in Los Angeles. The only way to see if Randle is a hit is if he, at long last, makes a playoff team.
Aaron Gordon, No. 4
Unlike Randle, Gordon can say that he has contributed to a good team. However, every year like clockwork, Air Gordon been slated for a breakout, but it never happens. He has improved since his rookie year, plus he’s as good as advertised defensively. There’s something missing to his game on the offensive end that we just haven’t seen yet. We may never see it – but if we do, it might not be with Orlando.
Andrew Wiggins, No. 1
Lastly, there’s Andrew Wiggins, who was just too difficult to determine where he fits under. Needless to say, he’s put up good numbers since entering the league. And those numbers were clearly good enough to earn him a nice payday. Since then, that contract has been labeled as one of the worst in the league. Wiggins is still in his mid-20’s, and now that he has a lesser role in Golden State, there could still be time for him to find himself. For now, he’s undetermined.
Ultimately, the funky turn out from this particular draft goes to show that no matter how much excitement a class of rookies can get, it’s impossible to draw big-time conclusions until some time down the road. Maybe we should consider that before the next class that comes as hyped as the 2014 NBA Draft.
But it might be a while before we see something like that again.
Georgetown Prospect Omer Yurtseven is Ready for Center Stage
Omer Yurtseven spoke with Drew Maresca about playing for coach Patrick Ewing, training for the NBA during a pandemic and why he feels he’s the best center in the 2020 draft class.
Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot tall, Georgetown center, posted an impressive junior season in 2019-20; he averaged 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. With legitimate NBA size and skills, it’s no mystery why he’s confident. “I don’t think anyone has my combination of tools and versatility,” Yurtseven recently told Basketball insiders. But he’s also a student of the game –well aware of the game’s history and where it’s headed.
“I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of me. I haven’t seen anyone with the tools that I have. I can shoot the ball, the three-ball, and that’s where the big man is headed,” Yurtseven said.
But he’s not satisfied with what he’s accomplished thus far. He wants more. And he understands that he’ll have to continue working to ensure his spot in the league.
“Some guys might be more athletic [than me], but there are a lot of athletic bigs in the league who don’t stick,” Yurtseven continued. “The skillset is just as important, if not more. So is the [willingness to put in] the work. I think I’m better or as good as any other players, and my rookie year, that’s my goal, to prove that.”
Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from N.C. State in 2018 after a successful Sophomore season in which he shot over 50 percent on three-point attempts. He sat out the 2018-19 season voluntarily to play for Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing. The opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer was too good to pass up.
“That’s what I was looking for coming in [working with Ewing]. I needed someone to see the game from my perspective,” Yurtseven said. “I was looking for that feedback and I demanded to be coached. I wanted to learn from him. The thing he stayed on me the most about was the pace of the game and how quick my moves would have to be at the next level.
“The turnaround jumper was one of his major weapons,” Yurtseven continued. “He was ahead of his time, but he wanted to see me do the same thing and give 100 percent effort every time.”
Yurtseven jumper is a major weapon in his arsenal, so a pairing with Ewing was an obvious fit. His numbers remained strong during his junior year season with Georgetown, but with one glaring drop off – three-point percentage. Ewing demanded that Yurtseven operate from the low post, a role that the prospect didn’t love, but accepted. Could a new role be to blame for a down shooting year? Yurtseven would never blame anyone other than himself, especially not Ewing. But it’s clear that he felt like he could have done even more if given the opportunity.
“The biggest thing is, I played how I played because that was the role demanded of me. All I had to do was be the inside presence, the defense collapser, and we had to stick to the strategy that coach thought was best for the team.
“I would love to have caught the ball at the top a little more,” Yurtseven continued. “But I was happy to be the post guy. I knew I had to get into my moves quick, so that’s what I did. I sacrificed what I think is my best skills for the team, and I was fine with it.”
It’s evident that Yurtseven is a team-first guy but his three-point shooting took a significant hit. As mentioned above, Yurtseven shot 50 percent on 1.3 three-point attempts as a sophomore in 2017-18, but only 21.4 percent on only half an attempt from long range per game in 2019-20. However, it’s not in his nature to look back – only ahead.
“That’s been my main focus,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “In April, I was shooting 30 or 40 percent two steps behind the college three. That percentage has added up 5 or 10 percent each month. Doing it isn’t easy, but it pays off and that’s why we do it. Now I’m at 75 or 80 percent (in practice sessions) and I’m really confident in my ability.
“And that’s the most important skill set for big men right now,” Yurtseven said. “You’ve got to be a perimeter shooter, as well as a perimeter defender, because big men are evolving away from the rim.”
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yurtseven – and all of the 2020 class – received longer than normal between the end of the 2019-20 NCAA season and the 2020 NBA Draft. And while mock drafts have slowly whittled down the number of prospects, Yurtseven is working tirelessly to improve his stock in any way possible. impressive game.
“No one knew this offseason would be so long. It’s been 6, 8 months already,” Yurtseven continued. “But the team around me has been a blessing – coordinating workouts and making sure I’m taking steps to improve, from nutrition to training lateral quickness to shooting.
“It’s speed and agility, studying the game and having the knowledge about how to position yourself,” Yurtseven continued. “It’s timing and positioning and footwork. It’s all pieces of the puzzle. But the league is another level than college. That’s why I’ve been preparing, increasing lateral quickness, strengthening my glutes, making sure my quads and hips are firing well and that my lateral push-off is explosive as I want.”
“And seeing it translate on the court in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. Switching on guards and providing I can do it to myself. It’s been really fun and fulfilling.”
Yurtseven could have opted to play professionally in Europe – he had numerous professional offers as an 18-year-old prior to coming to joining N.C. State. But Yurtseven is driven by more than money and fame. He is family-oriented and understands the long game. His parents wanted him to receive a college degree before pursuing basketball – a decision that Yurtseven is happy to have made.
“The education was the main reason [I chose to play in the NCAA]. My family’s dream was that I get a college degree.
“When I was 18, [Turkish teams] offered me a huge contract. I’ve never seen so many zeros in my life,” Yurtseven continued.
“Now it’s time to chase my dream. And my team, my circle, it’s our goal to find a franchise that allows me to grow into a player for 10-plus years – and I’ll never stop working at it.”
Where Yurtseven ultimately plays is anyone’s guess – but he’s already spoken with 17 NBA teams.
Whatever franchise selects the center will add a hard-working and versatile big man that looks well-suited for the modern game – or he may not be selected at all. Yurtseven is currently ranked outside the top 50 according to some mocks – but if he gets an opportunity, he knows how he’d like to play.
“My aim is to get a double-double, year one,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “And, of course, guarding 1 through 5 is another big thing that coaches are looking for. Look at the Bucks, they were ranked first in offense (in 2019-20). Most of their points come from spot-ups. Defenses collapse on Giannis and Middleton – and Brook Lopez stays alone in the corner. I think that’ll be where I get my shots, too.”
Only three rookies in the past 10 years have averaged a double-double in their first season in the league – Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton. That’s an elite club in which Yurtseven is seeking membership. Can he surprise the basketball world? Only time will tell.
There isn’t much data on him against elite big men. But there is one relevant contest worth examining: a Nov. 22 matchup against Duke and Vernon Carey, who is projected to be drafted No. 26 overall by Basketball Insiders.
Carey filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but so did Yurtseven (21 points, five rebounds and four blocks). That night, his entire repertoire was on full display – decisive drop steps, smooth turnaround jump shots over both shoulders, baby hooks, midrange jumpers and hard-nosed defense.
“He was the only true big man that I played against,” Yurtseven recalled. “He was quick and Duke did a good job putting the ball in his hands as soon as he stepped in the paint. I had to exert a lot of energy keeping him off his spot, but I adjusted quickly.
“I figured he would be very strong, but he ultimately didn’t feel as strong as I expected. My maturity and strength helped me a lot.”
Yurtseven’s skill and build render him tailor-made for the NBA. But for most, sticking at the professional peak is about more than skill and body. IQ, on and off of the floor, play a major role, too.
“A lot of guys [in this draft class] haven’t played many games,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “Having a college degree and that experience is a huge tool.
“Playing overseas as a pro is another layer of experience that I have compared to these guys. My IQ has improved. Those one-and-done guys are gonna be thrown into the fire, but I’ll be more ready.
“I saw a study,” Yurtseven explained. “Guys that come in 21-and-under stay in the league two or three years on average. Guys that come in and are 21-or-older stay seven or eight years on average. That just shows how much time it takes to mature your game.”
Comparatively, only four players were 22 or older as on draft night in 2019 – Yurtsevein is 22.
At the end of the day, it will be about how he performs on the court, and he’s comfortable with that.
“If I get drafted, I’ll be the first guy coming out of Turkey with a college degree,” Yurtseven said proudly.
“I’m ready for the next step. I appreciate everyone wishing me luck and supporting me from afar. I can’t wait to show my game’s evolution and reap the benefits of all of the work I’ve put in.”
NBA Daily: Tyronn Lue is the Right Coach for the Clippers
Is Lue the right coach for the Los Angeles Clippers? David Yapkowitz thinks so.
When Doc Rivers was first hired by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, the expectation was that he would be the one to guide the franchise into respectability. A laughingstock of the NBA for pretty much their entire existence, marred by bad coaching, bad management and bad ownership, Rivers was supposed to help change all of that.
For the most part, he did.
Rivers arrived from the Boston Celtics with the 2008 championship, and he helped the Celtics regain their standing as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The Clippers were a perennial playoff contender under him and were even in the conversation for being a possible championship contender. The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin certainly were talked about as being a title contender, and this season’s group led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were definitely in the mix as well.
Not only did Rivers steady the team on the court though, but he was also a very steadying presence off the court. He guided the franchise through the Donald Sterling controversy and he was a positive voice for the team as they navigated the bubble and the ongoing charge for social reform in the country.
But when things go wrong with a team, the coach is usually the one who ends up taking the fall. While Rivers did bring the Clippers to a level of respectability the franchise has never known, his record was not without blemishes. Most notably was his team’s inability to close out playoff series’ after holding three games to one on advantages two separate occasions.
In 2015, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets only to squander that lead and lose Game 7 on the road. In Game 6, their shots stopped falling and neither Paul nor Griffin could do anything to halt the Rockets onslaught.
This season, in an incredibly similar fashion, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and ended up getting blown out the second half of Game 7. Just like before, the offense stalled multiple games and neither Leonard nor George could make a difference.
There were also questions about Rivers’ rotations and his seeming inability to adjust to his opponents. In the end, something had to change, and whether it’s right or wrong, the coach usually ends up taking the fall.
Enter Tyronn Lue. Lue, like Rivers, is also a former NBA player and has a great deal of respect around the league. He came up under Rivers, getting his first coaching experience as an assistant in Boston, and then following Rivers to the Clippers.
He ended up joining David Blatt’s staff in Cleveland in 2014, and when Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Lue was promoted to head coach. In the playoffs that year, Lue guided the Cavaliers to victory in their first 10 playoff games. They reached the Finals where they famously came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the franchise’s first championship.
The Cavaliers reached the Finals each full year of Lue’s tenure as head coach, but he was let go at the start of the 2018-19 season when the team started 0-6 after the departure of LeBron James.
In the 2019 offseason, Lue emerged as the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job, before he ultimately rejected the team’s offer. After rejoining Rivers in LA with the Clippers for a year, he once again emerged as a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions this offseason before agreeing to terms with the Clippers.
Following the Clippers series loss to the Nuggets, many players openly talked about the team’s lack of chemistry and how that may have played a factor in the team’s postseason demise. Adding two-star players in Leonard and George was always going to be a challenge from a chemistry standpoint, and the Clippers might have secured the perfect man to step up to that challenge.
During his time in Cleveland, Lue was praised for his ability to manage a locker room that included James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In Game 7 against the Warriors, Lue reportedly challenged James at halftime and ended up lighting a fire that propelled the Cavaliers to the championship.
Lue’s ability to deal with star egos isn’t just limited to his coaching tenure. During his playing days, Lue was a trusted teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers during a time when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant weren’t seeing eye to eye. He also played with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s Washington Wizard days.
Now, he’ll be tasked with breaking through and leading the Clippers to a place where no Clipper team has ever been before. He’ll be expected to finish what Rivers was unable to accomplish and guide the Clippers to an NBA championship.
For one, he’ll have to change the Clippers offensive attack. This past season, the Clippers relied too much on an isolation heavy offense centered around Leonard and George. That style of play failed in the playoffs when after failing to adjust, the Clippers kept taking tough shot after tough shot while the Nuggets continued to run their offense and get good shots.
With the Cavaliers, Lue showed his ability to adjust his offense and work to his player’s strengths. In the 2018 Playoffs, Lue employed a series of off-ball screens involving Love and Kyle Korver with James reading the defense and making the correct read to whoever was in the best position to score.
When playing with James, the offense sometimes tends to stagnate with the other four players standing around and waiting for James to make his move. Lue was able to get the other players to maintain focus and keep them engaged when James had the ball in his hands. Look for him to try and do something similar for when either Leonard or George has the ball in their hands.
He’s already got a player on the roster in Landry Shamet who can play that Korver role as the designated shooter on the floor running through off-ball screens and getting open. Both Leonard and George have become efficient enough playmakers to be able to find open shooters and cutters. That has to be Lue’s first task to tweak the offense to find ways to keep the rest of the team engaged and active when their star players are holding the ball.
The defensive end is going to be something he’ll need to adjust as well. The Clippers have some of the absolute best individual defensive players in the league. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George was a finalist for the award in 2019 and Patrick Beverley is a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.
When the team was locked in defensively this season, there wasn’t a team in the league that could score on them. The problem for them was they seemingly couldn’t stay engaged on the defensive end consistently enough. The other issue was Rivers’ inability to adjust his defense to his opponent. Against the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic had a field day whenever Montrez Harrell was guarding him.
Lue’s primary task will be to get this team to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season, as well as recognize what matchups are and aren’t working. Both Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were more effective frontcourt defenders in the postseason than Harrell was. Look for Lue to play to his team’s strengths, as he always has, and to trot out a heavy dose of man-to-man defense.
Overall, Lue was the best hire available given the candidates. He’s got a strong rapport among star players. He’s made it to the finals multiple times and won a championship as a head coach. And he already has experience working with Leonard and George.
Given the potential free agent status of both Leonard and George in the near future, the Clippers have a relatively small window of championship contention. Lue was in a similar situation in Cleveland when James’ pending free agency in the summer of 2018 was also a factor. That time around, Lue delivered. He’ll be ready for this new challenge.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Third Scorer Is By Committee
The Los Angeles Lakers have a whole unit of third scoring options – and that’s why they’re one win from an NBA Championship.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers once the NBA bubble began was who was going to pick up the mantle of being the third scoring option.
Even before the 2019-20 season began, it was obvious that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be the primary offensive weapons, but every elite team with championship aspirations needs another player or two they can rely on to contribute on the offensive end consistently.
The obvious choice was Kyle Kuzma. In his third year in the NBA, Kuzma was the lone member of the Lakers’ young core that hadn’t been shipped elsewhere. His name had come up in trade rumors as possibly being included in the package to New Orleans for Davis, but the Lakers were able to hang on to him. He put up 17.4 points per game over his first two seasons and had some questioning whether or not he had All-Star potential.
For the most part this season, he settled into that role for much of this season. With Davis in the fold and coming off the bench, his shot attempts dropped from 15.5 to 11.0, but he still managed to be the team’s third scorer with 12.8 points per game.
But here in the bubble, and especially in the playoffs, the Lakers’ role players have each taken turns in playing the supporting role to James and Davis. Everyone from Kuzma to Alex Caruso, to Dwight Howard, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to Markieff Morris and even Rajon Rondo have had games where they’ve given the team that additional scoring boost.
Earlier in the bubble, James himself said they need Kuzma to be the team’s third-best player to win, but Kuzma himself believes that it’s always been by committee.
“We don’t have a third scorer, that’s not how our offense is built. Our offense is really AD and Bron, and everyone else plays team basketball,” Kuzma said on a postgame media call after Game 4 of the Finals. “We’ve had a long season, hopefully by now, you’ve seen how we play. Everyone steps up at different times, that’s what a team does.”
On this particular night, when the Miami HEAT got a pregame boost with the return of Bam Adebayo and wealth of confidence from their Game 3 win, it was Caldwell-Pope who stepped up and assumed the mantle of that third scoring option.
He finished Game 4 with 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. He also dished out five assists and grabbed three rebounds. Perhaps his most crucial moments of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers desperately clinging to a slim lead and the Heat not going away.
He hit a big three-pointer in front of the Miami bench with 2:58 to go in the game, and then followed that up with a drive the rim and finish on the very next possession to give the Lakers some breathing room.
Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most consistent Lakers this postseason and he’s been one of their most consistent three-point threats at 38.5 percent on 5.3 attempts. He was actually struggling a bit with his outside shot before this game, but he always stayed ready.
“My teammates lean on me to pick up the energy on the defensive end and also make shots on the offensive end…I stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “You’re not going to knock down every shot you shoot, but just staying with that flow…Try to stay in the rhythm, that’s what I do. I try not to worry about it if I’m not getting shots. I know they are eventually going to come.”
Also giving the Lakers a big offensive boost in Game 4 was Caruso who had a couple of easy baskets at the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. He’s become one the Lakers best off the ball threats as well, making strong cuts to the rim or drifting to the open spot on the three-point line.
He’s had his share of games this postseason when it’s been his turn to step up as the Lakers additional scoring threat. During Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Caruso dropped 16 points off the bench to help prevent the Rockets from tying the series up. In the closeout Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, he had 11 points and finished the game in crunch time.
For him, it’s about staying ready and knowing that the ball is eventually going to come to whoever is open. When that happens, it’s up to the role players to take that pressure off James and Davis.
“Our third star or best player is whoever has the open shot. We know what AD and LeBron are going to bring to the table every night. They’re going to get their attention, they’re going to get their shots,” Caruso said after the game.
“It’s just about being ready to shoot. We have two of the best passers in the game, if not the best, so we know when we are open, we are going to get the ball. We have to be ready to do our job as soon as the ball gets to us.”
And if the Lakers are to close out the series and win the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel knows that it’s going to take a collective effort from the rest of the team, the way they’ve been stepping up all postseason.
“We need everybody to participate and contribute, and we’re a team-first team,” Vogel said after the game. “Obviously we have our two big horses, but everybody’s got to contribute that’s out there.”
Headlines2 weeks ago
Sources: Rockets Interview Kenny Atkinson for Head Coach
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